Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Birmingham conference diary - the health debate

Because of my family circumstances - several of my relatives have either been very dependent on NHS care or have worked for the NHS - issues of public health have always been very important to me, and the current situation with regard to the "Success Regime" consultation in Cumbria only emphasises this,

There are many wonderful people working in the NHS in Cumbria - including some of my friends and family members - and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude. None of the disagreements we may have about the policies of any of the health trusts in our county should imply any criticism of the doctors, nurses and other staff who do such a great job saving lives and healing people. We can and must  fight to protect and improve our health services - and that includes supporting those who want to see mistakes corrected. But this must be done within the context of recognition for those who are doing a great job.

The Health discussion today at Conservative conference was particularly poignant because of a two guest speaker with heartbreaking tales to tell, such as James Titcombe whose newborn son died because of problems at a hospital in Cumbria in 2008.

James's tragic story of what happened to his baby boy Joshua will have been almost unbearable for any parent to listen to. He fought a courageous fight to try  to get the mistakes that were made at Furness General Hospital (FGH) acknowledged and the lessons learned so that it would not happen again. Instead of the hospital trust addressing the issue, he was first confronted with an organisation which closed ranks.

The most awful part of his story was that on the day of Joshua's funeral, he went into a florist and bought some flowers. The florist asked about who the flowers were for, and learning that Mr Titcombe's son had died following flaws in the care he had received at FGH, she burst into tears and said that she too had lost a baby born at the same hospital four years before, She said that this death had been "one of those  things" which nobody could have done anything about.

Except that it wasn't. When the deaths of babies at FGH were finally properly investigated, it turned out that the death of that florist's child should have been the first warning which should have resulted in steps to improve care at the hospital. James Titcombe believes that if that had been done his own son might now be a healthy seven-year-old.

The other shocking thing about this story is how much fuss he had to make to get an investigation. Jeremy Hunt referred to this in his own speech shortly afterwards, asking of James Titcombe,

"Do you know how many emails and letters James had to write over 6 years to get the bottom of what happened? 300 letters and 3000 emails.

"He shouldn’t have had to write one, let alone that many. But faced with a grieving father, instead of supporting him the system pulled up the drawbridge.
Any one of us could be the same Dad or same parent – so let’s be clear closing ranks against families who want to know the truth about their loved ones has no place in our NHS."
You can read the full text of Jeremy Hunt's speech at the Spectator website at

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